Friday, 27 November 2009

What women wear in Malawi: A eulogy to the Chitenje

A question I quite often get asked is what clothing do women wear in Malawi, or what is the traditional Malawi dress.

The most commonly worn item of clothing by women in Malawi is the Chitenje (also known as a Kitenge in Tanzania and Kenya).

Woman in Mzuzu market in Malawi with baby in a chitenjeWomen in Mpata village in Malawi with baby in Chitenje sling on backHere is a eulogy to the Chitenje in Malawi.

What is a Chitenje
A chitenje is a rectangle of fabric (generally 2 x 1 metres) worn by women around the waist or chest. Chintenjes are a cheap, everyday piece of clothing. They are very often covered with a great variety of pictures, colors, patterns and usually include slogans, including political slogans (especially when Hastings Banda was president).

Wearing the Chitenje
The chitenje is generally wrapped around the waist and tied as you would tie a towel or sarong. Normally clothing (certainly underwear) is worn under the chitenje and this can cover up slightly shabby clothes with the chitenje's multi-coloured fabric

Other uses for the Chitenje
Chitenje's can be worn around the head as well, wrapped in a similar way to a head towel, and is used for decoration or to cover any hair-dos that may be in progress. It is also a very useful cushion for carrying...well anything that can be carried on the head!

A chitenje also makes an incredibly useful custom sling for a baby (see the pictures to the right), and is either constructed so the baby can hang at the front, or slung over the back, with legs tucked around the side of the mum. Some of the more enterprising mothers are also able to breastfeed while the child is in the sling - allowing hands to be free for other, more imporant tasks!

To sum up - the common chitenje is a really useful bit of kit for women in Malawi, and on a final note the same cloth can be taken to a tailor and sewn into a dress, or shirt and skirt for special occasions e.g. Church on Sunday.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Zomba: in-depth

Zomba - an overview of one of the prettiest cities in Malawi

Zomba is situated in the southern region of Malawi and used to be the capital of Malawi, before it went to Lilongwe. It has many old colonial buildings, a memento of Malawi's colonial past. There is a botanical gardens in the centre of town with a number of indiginous and exotic trees and plants, which is worth seeing if you are interested in nature. The town has one of the best markets for fruit and vegetables in Malawi, with a great range and variety depending on the season.

Zomba has beautiful surroundings, the Zomba plateau making an impressive back drop to the town, and the sheer rockface is an imposing sight! Zomba plateau has some lovely walks, (a great start for the fitness enthusiast is a potato path that takes you to the top of the plateau). Some people even try and fish in the dams at the top of the plateau.

At the top of Zomba mountain is a hotel, which has a specacular view overlooking the town (watch out, as this is an expensive place to stay!) and also has a fantastic views across to Mount Mulanje (on clear days!).

Lake Chilwa is also short distance to the east (20-30 minutes) of Zomba. It is a shallow lake which shrinks significantly in the dry season and supports many fishermen (who still fish from dugout canoes using nets). The volume of water greatly increases in the wet season, but due to high levels of Bilharzia, swimming is not recommended.

Zomba is not far from Blantyre (just under 1 hour by car), and 3-4 hours from Lilongwe. It is also a 6-8 hour drive to Sambani Lodge!

Find out more about the main cities in Malawi.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Tobacco in Malawi

Tobacco is the main export for Malawi.

Much of the tobacco in Malawi is produced on large estates, but there are many small holders who produce some tobacco to sell at auction each year. Small farms tend to diversify their crops and often grow a few tobacco plants, alongside other cash and subsistence crops.

The auction houses are in Limbe, Lilongwe and Mzuzu, and the auctions often take place around March and April each year.

Tobacco is cured in a number of ways, the most common being 'Burley' where it is laid out in long sheds and dried by the dun. A more expensive way is to flue-cure the tobacco, using wood fires in tall barns, this gives it a different flavour and will sell for more. Dark-fired tobacco (NDDF) is cured in small barns over a longer period of time in the presence of heavy smoke - this is used in cigars.

After curing, tobacco is sold in bales at auction where prices of all the types of tobacco are volatile, at the mercy of world markets.

You will sometimes see men and women chewing tobacco and smoking home-made cigarettes, and it is not uncommon to see people using it as snuff!

Find out more about Beer and Cannabis in Malawi.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Cannabis in Malawi

A very short post about cannabis in Malawi.

Cannabis is widely grown along the lakeshore to produce hemp for fishermen's nets. It is of course now sold as Malawi Gold to tourists and backpackers. As it is quite accessible, and very freely available, there are some incidences where it is even used by some schoolchildren, which results in behavioural problems.

Buying and selling cannabis is illegal, but it is very difficult to police in the remote areas where it is grown, and even in the cities police (like elsewhere in the world) have bigger priorities.

Find out more about Tobacco and Beer in Malawi.